Saturday's semifinal matchup between No. 1 Duke and No. 5 Denver was highly anticipated, as two of the nation's most high-octane, action-packed teams took the field.
Duke entered the contest as the tournament's defending champion; however, getting past a Denver team that hadn't lost since March 1 proved to be a daunting task.
The game certainly lived up to expectations, as Duke emerged victorious 15-12 after a wild finish. Duke head coach John Danowski accredited his roster's experience as the reason the Blue Devils were able to withstand the adversity posed by a talented Denver squad, as captured by Ryan Hoerger of The Duke Chronicle:
You're behind at half, you're ahead at half, you come from behind, you score under leads, sometimes your opponent just beats you, sometimes you allow your opponent to come back, so I think at this point in the year the guys have drawn from all these different experiences, and I do think our senior class in general has provided exceptional leadership from day one, and they have been in [a lot of] these [games].
Denver showed it was in for a highly competitive match. Right off the bat Wesley Berg pushed his way through Duke's defenses, scoring his 44th goal of the season after just over two minutes of action.
The Blue Devils came right on back, as Myles Jones notched his 34th goal of the season less than one minute later. It didn't take long for Duke to generate its first lead of the game, as Deemer Class scored on a great assist from Kyle Keenan, putting the Blue Devils ahead 2-1.
NCAA Lacrosse tweeted a very truthful message at this point in the match:
After a great save by Denver goaltender Ryan LaPlante to prevent Duke from increasing its lead, Tyler Pace made it pay off on the offensive end of the field, tying the game at 2-2.
One more Duke goal from Chad Cohan would end the fist quarter with the Blue Devils leading 3-2.
Within the first minute of the second quarter, Jack Bobzien notched his 40th goal of the season, evening the game at 3-all.
That wouldn't last long, as Class scored his second goal of the game just 30 seconds later to give Duke the lead once again.
After Berg scored again for Denver to even things up, Duke took over.
In the midst of Duke's flurry of goals, a reappearing name found the back of the net, according to Duke's Twitter account:
The Blue Devils closed out the half scoring four consecutive goals. They looked ready to run away with the game after increasing their lead to 8-4 entering the break.
NCAA Lacrosse tweeted the halftime update:
Bobzien opened the scoring in the second half to make it 8-5 for Denver, but Duke stifled that momentum by answering with two more, further increasing its lead to 10-5.
After an exchange of goals, Duke led 11-7 with under three minutes left in the third quarter.
That's when the excitement intensified.
Denver's Berg and Pace scored the final two goals of the third quarter, as the teams entered the final quarter with Denver trailing 11-9.
After a flurry of shots from Denver to begin the fourth quarter, Berg came through once more, scoring his 48th goal of the season and bringing Denver to within one.
The teams traded goals quickly and the score escalated to 12-11 in Duke's favor with 11 minutes remaining.
After Jones' goal over this stretch, he had a message for ESPN's cameras. According to a Vine post from Joe Sweeney of ILTelevision.com, Jones appears to say, "Yeah, mess with me. That's what you get."
Take a look:
Suddenly, we had a game going, as NCAA Lacrosse tweeted the same:
Needless to say, Denver's Twitter account appeared ready to erupt:
The Blue Devils poured it on from there.
Within a 1:30 interval, Keenan, Class and Cohen scored for Duke, quickly giving them a four-goal lead with seven minutes remaining.
Pace scored for Denver 30 seconds later to bring the score to 15-12.
The Blue Devils did a nice job controlling the clock and playing solid defense over the final six minutes of the game. Duke goaltender Kyle Turri had some brilliant saves over the final minutes of the game, securing a win for Duke.
According to a tweet from ESPNU, Duke's Keenan earned Player of the Game honors:
With the win, Duke moves on to the finals for a chance at a title defense. The team awaits the winner of Saturday afternoon's game between Maryland and Notre Dame, which will determine who Duke will face in the championship.
Regardless of Duke's opponent in the finals, expect yet another dramatic finish to what has been one of the most exciting tournaments we've seen in quite some time.
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